Suffering from a longstanding neurodevelopmental disorder and homelessness, in February a woman gave birth to a child on the sidewalk that runs in front of the hurricane-ravaged structure once used as Addelita Cancryn Junior High School.
Now, the woman’s mother is raising two of her daughter’s children – an infant and an eight-year-old autistic child – while the territory continues to fall short on providing services for persons suffering from mental illnesses.
The 37-year-old woman had been admitted to the hospital while in the throes of labor but was released after demanding they allow her to leave the facility. After the woman’s release from the hospital, she was found near the Nisky Shopping Center by a passing judge who responded by seeking medical attention.
Behind closed doors and in hushed whispers this woman’s story has circulated through the island of St. Thomas and fallen on the ears of her former classmates, teachers, co-workers and the community at large. Her story serves as a stark reminder that without wraparound services in the U.S. Virgin Islands for those with mental illness, experiences like hers could become frequent and commonplace.
Willing to share her experience, the woman’s mother, Claudette Christian, spoke with the Source to dispel rumors and bring dignity to her beloved daughter, who Christian spoke of with the highest of regard.
“When she was admitted she was very fussy, and the hospital told me if she said she wanted to leave they would have to let her leave because she is disturbing other patients. Other patients cannot sleep, and she wanted to leave,” the woman’s mother said. “So, they allowed her to discharge herself out and walk from the hospital to Nisky Center, where she had the baby and sat down there for the whole day. During that time, I was very worried that she could have a hemorrhage or something.”
Christian’s daughter was transported to the Schneider Regional Medical Center after Christian requested a psychiatric hold be placed on her daughter.
“What I did was ask Human Services to help me get her admitted that day and the police officers were very nice and went and picked her up. And she was very willing because she was very weak and dehydrated. They took her to the hospital and she…was discharged some days later without my knowledge,” Christian said.
Upon being released from the hospital Christian said her daughter returned to the streets, leaving behind a baby boy who Christian plans to take guardianship over, just as she did the infant’s 8-year-old brother.
“The baby is in good condition. He is a very healthy little boy,” Christian said, adding with a laugh, “He’s a lot.”
Christian said her daughter is a “very good mother, very loving.” But Christian acknowledged signs of her daughter’s illness had started 18 years prior to the arrival of her newest, bustling grandson.
“She went away to college and before she left here [the Virgin Islands], she was an Army ROTC sergeant. She did track and field and was an honor society student. She got a great scholarship and was able to go to college,” Christian said. “But when she came back, I just started to see changes in her and she was going down, going down, going down. After then, she was just on the street. She would come home then go back on the street and keep doing that.”
Christian said she was able to seek some help for her daughter and after being prescribed medication for her illness, appeared to feel better.
“She used to go to mental health and started to take the medication prescribed and started looking nice, dress nice. But still, she was very different,” Christian said.
However, a turning point occurred in 2012 when Christian’s daughter gave birth to her first son.
“After that, she never took the medication again. She said it was making her sick,” Christian said.
Things began to spiral when a neighbor called the police suspecting neglect and Christian was made legal guardian. “But she did take very good care of her son and everything, very loving. But I think after her son was taken away from her, she just went back down the drain,” Christian said.
Now, Christian is responsible for her two grandchildren, and while she has adequate family support, she said she has received little government support for things like health care and child care.
“I need daycare services for them, but Human Services said they can only provide daycare services for essential employees as a grant, so I am not going to receive anything,” Christian said. “I have to pay whatever I have from my pocket, and some things are very expensive,” like the various needs of her older grandson who is diagnosed with autism.
“Every day I have to do therapy. I do everything. I am the one,” Christian said. “He has medical assistance from the government, but it doesn’t cover what he needs. So, it comes out of my private insurance. He has to do ADA, he has to do OT, he has to do speech therapy. It takes a lot of time from me.”
While Christian loves her family, she said she would welcome services in the U.S. Virgin Islands that can assist with mental health, affordable child care and children with special needs.
Christian said her daughter is back living on the streets but, after not seeing her for some time after her grandson’s birth, “She came by here this very morning, which made my heart feel better.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands was declared in a mental health State of Emergency in 2016 by former Gov. Kenneth Mapp, but five years later the Virgin Islands government has yet to act on Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s proposed Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Act. The act aims to address gaps in services to residents who suffer from behavioral health challenges, mental health disorders, developmental disabilities, alcoholism and drug addiction.